The Federal Aviation Administration or FAA today released an updated list of pilot, air traffic controller, law enforcement and citizen reports of potential encounters with unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) – more popularly called “drones.” The latest data cover February through September 2016. (FAA Belatedly Issues Rules for Some Drones, FAA Finally Announces Registration Rules for Drones – UAVs, Ineffective FAA Sits By as Drones Take Over U.S. Airspace)
Reports of possible drone sightings to FAA air traffic facilities continued to increase during FY 2016. There were 1,274 such reports from February through September last year, compared with 874 for the same period in 2015 – a 46% increase. A report by Bard College’s Center for the Study of the Drone, found that 327 incidents between December 2013 and September 2015 posed a “proximity danger” where an unmanned aircraft got within 500 feet of a plane, helicopter or other manned aircraft or when a pilot determined a drone was dangerously close.
FAA critics say that the threats to general and commercial aviation, as well as national security have not been addressed since users will not have a pilot’s license or training of any sort about airspace rules. Worse, the potentially deadly drones will not have a transponder on board so they can be tracked. It’s a terrorist’s dream – buying over the counter drones that can conduct surveillance, and deliver biological or conventional explosives. (See Separate Story on latest story on FAA Drone Advisory Committee recommendations.)
Although the latest data contain several reports of pilots claiming drone strikes on their aircraft, to date the FAA claims it has not verified any collision between a civil aircraft and a civil drone. “Every investigation has found the reported collisions were either birds, impact with other items such as wires and posts, or structural failure not related to colliding with an unmanned aircraft.”
After heavy criticism by Congress about ignoring the threat to public safety and the lack of oversight by the agency responsible for airspace, as well as missed deadlines to do its regulatory job, the so-called Registration Task Force delivered recommendations to FAA Administrator Michael Huerta and Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx on November 2015. The thorniest details other than registration – the actual regulations -have yet to be worked out.
Safely integrating unmanned aircraft into the national airspace system is now said to be one of the FAA’s top priorities. “Unauthorized operators may be subject to stiff fines and criminal charges, including possible jail time.”
or current information on where unmanned aircraft can be flown safely, the FAA offers the B4UFLY app, which is available for iOS and Android smartphones. The app is free and can be downloaded from iTunes and Google Play.